“Sure you want seconds?” “You’re just big boned,” and “You inherited Grandma's hips” aren’t just annoying things your parents may have said when you were growing up—they can pave the way for teen eating disorders, according to new research.
The study, published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, included more than 2,000 adolescents of varying weights, many of whom were on the receiving end of such comments. Researchers found that when parents made statements about their kids’ body sizes and weight (couched delicately in “let’s just have a conversation” or mentioning that they should eat differently or exercise to lose weight or prevent weight gain), kids were more likely to engage in unhealthy behavior such as fasting, taking laxatives and diet pills, or binging and purging.
Unsurprisingly when parents talked to their kids about weight in the context of healthy eating and exercise habits, those kids were less likely to develop problems. “Conversations that emphasize health—not weight—empower kids and don't shame them or make them feel guilty,” says lead study author Jerica M. Berge, PhD, Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School.Of course, there’s nothing wrong with teens dropping a few pounds if they’re legitimately overweight. But in a world where Kate Upton is "fat", thinspiration is rampant, and Kendall Jenner’s bikini body is a permanent fixture on Instagram, nixing unhealthy body talk at home (the one place kids shouldn't be judged) can help prevent a lifetime of body image crap.
So, note to self when dealing with your current or future offspring: “If parents want to get the message across about weight loss, specifying the outcome in a way they’ll understand has a bigger impact,” says Berge. “Saying things like, ‘Exercise will help you run faster in soccer’ or ‘Eating vegetables will give you energy to do fun things with your friends’ may resonate."